When I was a little kid, people loved to ask, "So what are you going to be when you grow up?" Some kids answered fireman, astronaut, ballerina or superman. I said writer. Now maybe they were trying to be helpful, but around 90% of people told me, "You'll never make money from that." "It's not a real job." "Don't you know most writers are starving?"
This confused me. It's not like I wanted to be superman. Why did the kids who said they wanted to be superman get a fond smile, a pat on the head, and "How nice." It didn't make sense. I knew he wasn't real.
But writers obviously were. I'd read their books, visited their worlds, had my imagination filled with wondrous events and magical happenings. So how could that be impossible when no one ever said becoming superman was?
But I learned to play their game and say 'teacher' whenever anyone asked. And they'd nod and smile and the conversation would be over without the lecture. To me being a teacher was second choice. Nothing like being a writer. A writer's who I am, not what I do. And I kept writing. And reading. And telling stories.
When my sister couldn't sleep at night, she'd crawl into my bed and I'd make up stories for her until she fell sleep. In every spare moment I read and discovered how writers formed sentences, created worlds and drew the reader in so they couldn't put the book down. I also read in the not so spare moments, learning to walk and read at the same time, to do my chores while I read.
And I wrote. During class. When I was supposed to being doing homework, and when I was supposed to be asleep. Mum wouldn't let me keep my light on really late at night when everyone else was in bed, so I saved my pocket money and bought a torch. And under the blankets, late at night, I read and wrote rather than lay awake half the night creating worlds and characters in my mind.
When I was twelve years old I wrote my first 10,000 word novel, but please, never, ever ask to read it. I'm relieved to say I've improved dramatically since then. And I continued to write, averaging 80,000 words a year in my teens.
When I was twenty-one, I thought all my dreams were finally coming true. I received a letter. I held it in my hands, staring at the publisher's name printed on the envelope, looking at the foreign stamps, since Australia didn't have a publisher suited to my story. With trembling hands I opened the letter and as I read, I swear my heart skipped a beat. Maybe even two. They loved my work. Wanted it. But there were extensive changes needed. I walked around the house in a daze. Then I crashed.
My husband was injured at work. I had a nine month old toddler. There was no way in hell I could do major rewrites. Neither of them could pull their pants up. How could I find time to write in amongst caring for them and specialist appointments? I had to decline. But it was one of the hardest things I've ever done.
Over the next few years my writing slowed. If I wrote a hundred words in a day I was impressed. 100,000 words a year was a memory of the past. My daughter grew, my husband slowly improved. Eventually we had another child and life started to look less impossible. Words not only formed in my head, but I actually started to find time to write them. And I sent off manuscripts.
When a letter came, I felt like beating my head against a brick wall. Why the hell do publishers take so long? It was deja vu. Loved it. Wanted extensive changes. How do you feel about major rewrites to fit into our lines better?
I wanted to tell them, "Sure I'd love to do that… but you took too bloody long." After spending most of a difficult pregnancy in bed, my third child was born three months premmie. A baby that screamed nearly non-stop and who, according to specialists would eventually grow out of it. When he was eighteen months old I found a specialist who said, "No, sorry. He's not going to grow out of this. He's on the Autistic Spectrum."
So I learned to sleep only a couple of hours each day, to write a few words on my laptop as my pacing with a screaming baby on my hip took me past it. And to ignore everybody who told me my life was over and forget about writing. They obviously didn't know me very well if they thought I could forget writing. I probably would have written as a baby if I could have held the pen. I'm not sure anyone would have ever understood my squiggles. But I'm sure they would have been great.
Through all the years of learning how to raise a child that sees the world differently, I've continued to write and submit. I've had rejections, "Loved your story but it doesn't fit what we're now looking for," "There's too many stories in this genre," and my favourite, "Brilliant story, reader couldn't put it down, but we have no idea how to market it." After reading some of the horror stories writers have experienced at the hands of publishers I should probably be rejoicing life caused me to postpone being published. Reading Joe's experiences has given me an option I prefer.
No waiting eight months to hear back from someone. No being forced to write a book that is easily marketable. No being told you've got to starve if you want to be a writer. And no being told I have to focus on one genre and never, ever stepping outside it. I write Young Adult. That's my audience. My genres are contemporary, fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal and horror and I've recently self-published four books.
It's what I have worked towards my entire life and has been made possible by pioneers like Joe and the support of other writers who encourage people to persevere. To dig in your heels when times get tough and write when bed is calling and you haven't slept for thirty hours.
Never let anyone or anything steal your dream. It's not their dream and not their life. It's yours. Even if you have to temporarily put it aside don't wait forever to return to your dream. And don't focus on missed opportunities while you've had to let it languish. Make new ones instead.
Dreams are meant to be lived.